Chapter 17: Pathways to Testing
Dream time's over for Miroku. A burial and an argument
The Evil in Men's Hearts
Chapter 17: Pathways to Testing
Lost on dark paths of ignorance
we wander through the six worlds,
from dark path to dark path we wander,
when shall we be freed from birth and death?
They were not far from the mound of dirt where Matsuo had seen to the burial of the dead sohei, the best he could do under the circumstances. A lingering smell of incense wafted through the air.
"Who is to know whether I go before others, " Matsuo chanted.
"Or whether others go before me,
Whether it will be today
Or if it will be tomorrow?
Like countless drops of dew
Are those who have left before us
The morning may find us radiant and in health,
The evening might find us as white ashes.
When the winds of impermanence blow,
Our eyes are closed forever.
Thus we must turn to the teachings of the Buddha
And awaken to the ultimate source of life.
He gassho'd one last time, and walked away from the grave, and to the trees beyond where his companions waited. The sun had not been up long, and the early morning light passed honey colored light through the branches of the trees. He walked quietly, pensively as he joined the others.
"It was rather an eventful night," said Hakuzo. "I am amazed that I slept through it.
"You could say that." Matsuo said. "I was able to save one of them, but I don't know how compassionate I was turning him over to Sesshoumaru."
Hakuzo nodded, having been wakened when Matsuo arrived. "Not the first incident. Before that, Kagome-san had a particularly disturbing nightmare, with many dead youkai. It woke up most of us."
"Ah. Perhaps that explains why she and InuYasha were away from the camp." Matsuo looked at his hands, brushed them off on his robes, picked up his staff where he had left it leaning.
"You saw them last night?" Hakuzo said.
"He joined in the fight. Kagome-san seemed distressed, even before she knew what was going to happen."
They fell quiet for a moment. "Somehow, I feel caught up in something I'm not sure I want to be in," said Matsuo.
Teijo stepped out from behind a tree. "Welcome to Rinji," he said. "Tell me more about her dream."
Miroku woke up, sunlight streaming into his face. He shook the memory of the strange dream aside and sat up, stretched.
He looked over to the sleeping woman near him. He liked to watch her rest, all the cares smoothed from her face to reveal the pretty sweetness that had first caught his eye. Thinking about their upcoming wedding, he smiled, then gently shook her shoulder. "Good morning, my beautiful Sango," he said. "I believe we've slept a bit late."
She blinked, came too groggily, smiled as she saw his face. "I was having the saddest dream," she said, sitting up." Rubbing the back of her neck, she looked over the camp. "Miroku-kun, where's Koku?" she asked.
"I don't know. I just got up." he said. "He must have gotten up before us."
Miroku stood up, rolled up his bedroll, grabbed the water bucket, and went down to the creek.
Rocks in the stream created a small riffle, where the water gurgled by whitely to create a pool behind it. Willow and other trees lined the stream, but here, he could walk out on a rock and scoop up the clear water. He filled the wooden bucket, poured some of the water on his hands, and splashed it on his face, feeling the shock of it. It was very cold.
Sitting down, his mind went back to the dream. "The first noble truth," he said. "Life is suffering." He thought about the three he saw in the lotus.
"The second noble truth: suffering comes through attachment. If the dream is true, I wonder what attachment bound those three together?"
Kohaku came walking down the path to the river. Ever since the end of their quest, he had come to stay with them, but he remained a quiet, rather withdrawn boy, seldom talking unless spoken to. Miroku was surprised that he came and sat down next to him, propped his head on his knees and looked out into the distance.
"Did you sleep well?" he asked.
The boy shrugged. "I keep having dreams about Rin and Sesshoumaru-sama. Rin is grown up and fighting someone with a naginata. Sesshoumaru-sama is hurt. There's a white fox telling me I have to help her." He looked up at Miroku. "I don't know how to help her."
Teijo walked quietly to the back of the queue of daiyoukai, kitsune hanyou and humans. They were well into the valley of Rinji now.
He thought of the kami who had called him last night.
"You put this in my hand years ago," Teijo said, handing a silk wrapped packet to Benzaiten. "I give it back, safely, into your hands."
The kami shimmered whitely with her own light, reached out and took the small package. "You have kept trust well, Guardian." she said, sighed, looked wistful. "The time is now. Can you feel it? The storm that she released so long ago with Kukai gathers force, ready to explode across the land."
"She would atone," he replied. "She has many regrets."
"Atoning for dropping a stone in the pond will not stop the ripples," said the kami. "The price that must be paid will be high."
"I will not abandon her." he said.
"No. You will not. You have long passed the test. The others, we will see."
'She didn't take any time to start the testing,' Teijo thought.
InuYasha was walking up front with his brother. He was not happy. He turned towards Sesshoumaru, stopped walking.
"Those sohei were living in Udo! " InuYasha said. "Do you realize how close that is to the castle?"
Sesshoumaru stopped and turned to face him. "Yes." he said.
"You fucking let the people who want to kill you start a mission half a day's walk from your home!"
Teijo watched the people ahead of him as they stopped and listened. Rin who had been walking with InuYasha's mate, stopped as Kagome stopped and looked at the two brothers. Jaken, at the sound of the raised voices hurried to stand near Sesshoumaru, dropping the leads of the two headed dragonet. The monk Matsuo brought back was riding thrown across the back of Ah-Uhn, bound and not fully conscious, and he moaned slightly as the dragonet suddenly stopped. Teijo was rather surprised Sesshoumaru hadn't killed him. Matsuo and the miko had been stopping and checking him from time to time. He had a nasty cut on his forehead, neatly bandaged, and other injuries from the staff that the youkai monk had wielded, but right now nobody was paying much attention to him. Kagome dropped Rin's hand, a look of concern on her face, and began moving towards the front of the group.
Sesshoumaru looked at his brother with just the slightest look of irritation on his nearly passionless face. "This Sesshoumaru does not manage the day-to-day affairs of the ningens who live under his protection."
InuYasha's ears twitched in agitation. He crossed his arms in front of him, hiding them in the depths of his red sleeves. " Hmpf. So what do you do? How many other enemies of yours are there running around the countryside because you turn your back on the humans in your territory?"
"Calm yourself, Little Brother." Sesshoumaru said. The Daiyoukai began to be noticably irritated, his youki rising in response.
"How dare you address Seshoumaru-sama that way!" said Jaken, holding himself as haughty as a small person who looked like a cross between a kappa and a toad could, carried his staff high. "He has no need to answer to a halfbreed like you."
"Silence, Jaken." said Sesshoumaru.
Kagome reached InuYasha, rested a hand on his shoulder. InuYasha put an arm around her shoulder, drawing her close, took a deep breath, inhaling Kagome's calming scent. "Let's take a break, InuYasha. You two can talk about this later." she said.
"Calm myself, he says." InuYasha muttered, knowing that Sesshoumaru could still hear him, but letting Kagome lead him away from his brother. "In the last week Kagome and I have been attacked and held captive, Rin's been threatened, Hakuzo was wounded, and last night less than an hour away from us, there was a whole group of these people waiting for us to stumble over them. All of this has taken place in the Western Lands, and he tells me to calm myself."
The older youkai turned and looked at him. "And how would you deal with it?" Sesshoumaru asked.
InuYasha turned and faced him. "I wouldn't be turning my back on what's going on in the human villages!" InuYasha replied.
Hakuzo moved over towards Teijo. "Amazing. Before Naraku's death, they would have probably drawn swords and started fighting." he whispered.
Teijo raised an eyebrow. "Before Naraku, they wouldn't have been caught dead working together, either, from what I've heard."
Hakuzo tipped his head in agreement. "That is true."
Moving forward, they entered a clearing that looked like it had recently been a camp site. Matsuo who was walking ahead of the group, bent over, picked something up. "Jomei had been here. This was his fan." he said, holding up the fan he had given him a few days earlier.
Out of sight, hidden by a shrub, a white fox watched them patiently.